Secret Covid courts still imposing lockdown payments of up to £13,000: report

Average British citizens are reportedly being fined thousands of pounds by closed courts – sometimes without even notifying them – for allegedly failing to pay fines for breaking COVID-19 lockdowns.

To deal with the large number of offenders alleged to have breached lockdown restrictions over the past two years, a special mechanism known as the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) is used to decide cases in which people have their Failure to pay the stipulated penalty for banning violators.

The system was originally introduced six years ago to deal with petty offenses like non-payment of television licenses or train tickets, but with about 100,000 ban fines imposed, the backroom courts have been tasked with adjudicating non-payment of ban fines that Daily Mail reported.

In many cases, individuals were not even informed that a court case was pending against them, as the courts consisted solely of one or a group of judges adjudicating cases through a closed video link with a court clerk.

Some of those prosecuted by the closed courts have been fined up to £13,000 for alleged failure to pay lockdown payments. Judges in London have handed out over £1million in fines since lockdowns began.

Civil liberties advocates have criticized the use of closed courts to decide lockup fines, as people were essentially barred from defending themselves.

During a parliamentary inquiry into the use of such courts last year, Magistrates Association chair Beverly Higgs said there were significant concerns about their transparency as the system “works with a single judge sitting with a legal adviser outside of a court room, without the defendant or prosecutor being present.”

A contractor named Derek told the British tabloid that he was initially fined for not wearing a mask on a bus during the third national lockdown in March last year. He was fined £200 for this alleged offence.

“I wore a mask half the ride but had it around my neck because I was having trouble breathing from sinus issues,” he explained.

After failing to pay the fine, his case was dealt with by a Single Justice Procedure at Westminster Magistrates’ Court which, without informing him of the proceedings, fined him a total of £1,520.

“They never told me to go to court. The first thing I knew was when I received a letter saying I had been fined £1,400 plus legal costs at a hearing I never got a chance to attend,” said Derek.

“I was so shocked that I called the court and asked if I could go to jail. I think if I had attended a proper hearing I could have argued that I have a sinus problem and would have been acquitted.”

The contractor said while he’s been working through the pandemic, he’ll still find it difficult to pay such a large fine, saying it “would be hard to pay for food, bills and commutes to work.”

In addition to the immediate financial impact of the closed courts imposing such fines, failure to pay the courts could result in crimes becoming visible on future background checks, potentially hurting their job prospects.

In February, a bipartisan group of more than 40 MPs signed a letter to the government organized by civil rights group Big Brother Watch, calling for an urgent review of all fines imposed for lockdown breaches.

The group of MPs said there was “considerable evidence that thousands of people have been wrongly fined and even unlawfully prosecuted under coronavirus-related laws”.

Big Brother Watch has claimed up to 25,000 fines have been unlawfully handed out by police during lockdowns.

Meanwhile, 20 members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government were fined this week for breaking the very lockdowns they imposed on the rest of the nation, with a series of alcohol-laden parties thrown at the official residence of the Prime Minister at No Downing Street the Pandemic.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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